Wednesday, 8 September 2021


When Volker reached out to me a little while back to ask me to have a look at some blurb he’d written for a new puzzle he’d designed, my interest was piqued. It was called Fermat and the blurb described a lengthy design process that resulted in a single solution for putting three innocuous-looking triangular pieces inside a slightly lipped box.

The box will be familiar to anyone who’s played with any of the Euklid series (and a few others) – there’s just enough of a lip that you can’t ignore it, but it hardly seems to block off any of the entrance at all – until, that is, you start to try and place pieces inside the box.

Several weeks later the good folks at Pelikan announced that Fermat was ready for sale so I loaded up the virtual shopping cart and checked out – I ended up buying quite a few things from that release, and Fermat is definitely a firm favourite.

There are indeed three slightly differently sized triangular wooden blocks to be placed inside the box, below the lip. Each of the pieces will readily slide in and out and once inside they can all be manoeuvred around… in fact putting two in simultaneously isn’t all that complicated either – however, putting three of them in at the same time is impossible. (I’ll just tell you that now to save you all the bother.)

I spent an inordinate amount of time working out how best to move things around inside the box and I’d pretty much decided how the pieces need to be in there for the last piece to be inserted (my go-to strategy for these sorts of puzzle). I found a lot of ways to do stuff, just not the right stuff.

At one point I did what I suspect is a bit of a right of passage for this puzzle: I encouraged two blocks to slide past one another with the teeniest amount of pressure and then had a real heart-hits-the-table-kind-of-moment when I realised that I couldn’t get in underneath those pieces to push it back with the same teeny-tiny amount of pressure. For the next few days I tried variations on variations for getting the pieces properly aligned and getting one to slide past the other – all with zero success… I let some of my puzzling mates know that I’d done something a little silly and they mustered all their sympathy and duly laughed uproariously at me. (Thanks chaps!)

I applied a little thought to the subject and came up with a handy way of getting myself out of my little predicament and thankfully that worked a treat – but learn from my silly mistake folks: literally NO FORCE should be applied – seriously.  

Newly invigorated by all my mates solving it and telling me how much they liked it, I set at it again, being a lot more circumspect this time… I spent a while exploring the same blind alleyways I’d tried over the past week or two and then changed my perspective entirely… and that proved to be the right thing to do – I broke it down into a set of smaller problems and solved those in turn and then bundled the whole thing up into one big solution – and I think it’s great…

Unless Nick says otherwise, I think Volker has successfully designed out all of the other solutions and forced the solver to replicate the exact set of manoeuvres he set out to build into the solution.

This is definitely one of those puzzles that suckers you in thinking “How hard can it be” and then shows you exactly how hard!

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